Members of the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) staged a peaceful protest in front of the Ministry of Public Security yesterday as they called for the right to be issued driving licences.
According to a press statement issued by the DAG explaining the reason for the protest, members of the deaf community in Guyana cannot legally drive any motor vehicle since the Guyana Police Force’s Traffic Department does not let persons who are deaf take the driving test.
The DAG said it regards this position by the Traffic Department as a serious infringement of the basic human rights of persons who are deaf as it restricts their ability to enjoy the social and financial benefits of being mobile.
“Worldwide there are only a few countries left where deaf people cannot drive. Deaf drive and drive professionally as taxi drivers for example in our neighbourhood countries in the US and all of Europe, among others,” the statement said.
It was noted, too, that though the DAG has engaged the Ministry of Public Security on this issue since 2015 as well as the minister from the previous government, it is yet to receive any feedback.
A few members of the DAG explained that they are tired waiting and are demanding that their issue be addressed.
“Other countries such as Suriname and Jamaica, they all have licences for the deaf [and] it is not fair that Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean that does not allow licences for the deaf. We want to move ahead, we don’t want to stay where we are,” Jeremiah Williams, one of the protesters, explained.
“We want to talk to the minister again to see what is going on,” he added.
Stabroek News was told that at previous meetings with the current Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, representatives of the association were promised that plans would be made, however, nothing has materialised.
“I remember the three of us went to talk to the Minister. He was very sympathetic… For the hearing, it is very simple: they just go and pay a fee and they get their licence quickly but for the deaf it’s a back and forth and it’s unfair,” another protester, Colin Spector, said.
“The police sometimes take our money but don’t give us any licences. When we told our friends in America about the licence situation here, they can hardly believe it. My friend Nigel, who works at the Marriott, they see him riding and they are surprised and they ask how much accidents [he’s] had. He’s had no accidents,” he added.
It was alleged that though there is no legal provision that bars persons who are deaf from driving, the Traffic Department continues to refuse the issuance of licences to them, which has resulted in some trying to obtain licences illegally.
One man related a story where a fellow deaf colleague had paid for his licence but was given a fake one, which he only realised when it was pointed out to him by traffic officers during a traffic stop.
They also related instances where they are asked to pay bribes to the police who have found them driving without licences all because they are unable to legally obtain them.
According to Abdulla Sookram, who is also deaf, in Suriname vehicles driven by members of the deaf community are easily identified by stickers on the vehicle which identify the drivers as being deaf. He said such a measure can be implemented here along with the licence indicating that the holder is deaf.
Additionally, others contended that they would be willing to wear hearing aids if so requested and if it means they would be able to have their licence. “We are waiting and waiting but no one is listening to us. They don’t understand sign language but we understand writing so…it is a matter of inequality for us,” another man added.